It’s a common question that I see on the Internet in various forums: “What would you tell your younger self?” As I approach 50, my attitude has changed quite a bit on this, especially as I have to work with people 20+ years younger than me. Age breeds contempt. I have articles that are older than some of the people I deal with. But, what would I tell myself, if I could? I think it would be simple. One case would be to plead to myself to work harder, learn more, and be smarter. I’d try to convince myself to work more than play, with a commitment that there’s plenty of time for play. As well I would tell myself to travel more, to learn a language so that you could experience other cultures. I’d urge myself to save more money explaining the power of time when it comes to compounding money. Having recently realized that I’ve earned nearly $4 M since 2000 with shockingly little to show for it in my bank account has stepped this one up as a priority to tell myself about.
OK, the old standards being out of the way, I would extol to myself the horrors of aging. I would convince myself to not get out of shape when I got my first real job at 25. I would beg and plead with myself to start eating right and drinking less (I would never listen to myself around drinking less). I would have to expose some of the horrors of being 49 to myself, just to convince my young, cynical dumb ass. At 49, I am now no longer a desirable person. Women don’t want to be around me, companies don’t want to hire me, my government wants to tax the fuck out of me, and I feel like I blinked and it has all passed me by. In a few more blinks I will be retired (hopefully) and wondering why I never had children of my own.
But what about the children?
Speaking of children, I probably would advise myself to figure out a way to have a child of my own. I’ve raised a fine stepson who I consider my flesh and blood. But I would love to see what my genes would produce. It might help me solve a few lingering issues in my mind as to why I do certain things. I think there’s a fair amount of inherited behavior that we don’t really know about as of yet. For instance, my dad used to always pick at his eyebrows – my mom would yell incessantly to get him to stop – but he wouldn’t even realize he was doing it. As I get older, I’ve found myself doing the same thing. Turns out it’s a bona fide mental disorder – ha, bet you didn’t see that coming! Yep, I’ve got Trichotillomania: “The cause of trichotillomania is unclear. But like many complex disorders, trichotillomania probably results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.” Although, if you’re doing a quick Google search, I DON’T eat my hair – I’m not a complete freak (no offense to my brother/sister Trichotillomaniacs).
Anyway, I would like to see if some of my propensities are genetic or not. Plus, I think having a little me around would be super fun. On the downside, I was a very destructive child – I have always wanted to know how things work, so I took a lot of shit apart, and never seemed to be able to put it back together, much to the anger of my mother. I bet that’s what caused me to start pulling my eyebrows out.
The last two things I would tell myself would be to write more and pursue that on the side early and often. I’ve written on and off for decades but had I started forming my ideas earlier, I would be much further along than I am now. Finally, I would tell myself not to settle. I would strongly recommend staying alone for some extended time to benefit my psyche. One of the favorite years of my life was when I was divorced and was living alone. While I was emotionally a wreck from the pain of divorce, I rejoiced in my solitude. There was nothing quite so peaceful as coming home to an empty, quiet house. I generally get burned out by being around people too much, but I found that a half hour after work, sitting in a leather reclining wing chair that my mother had bought me as a sympathy gift (it was the only piece of furniture in my house at the time) restored my energy and patience. I was able to then go out and experience life instead of hiding in my house and feeling sorry for myself.
Finally, I would tell myself two critical truths that I already knew at a young age but have just been reiterated to me over and over again by experience. First, life isn’t easy, and you have to work hard to get anywhere, there are no shortcuts. Second, it’s who you know. I’m not even going to say “not what you know” because what you know is vitally important. But getting to know the right people, and keeping relationships with those people, that’s what gets you jobs, that’s what gets you the opportunity, that’s what gets you moving forward in life.
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